Staples to Offer 3D Printing Services in the US

Worldwide office supplies retailer Staples (SPLS) has been creeping its way into the world of 3D printing year by year.  In order to test the 3D printed waters, the company began by offering 3D printing services in Europe and online using Mcor’s full color 3D paper printing technology.  The partnership made perfect sense as both the 3D printer manufacturer and the office supplier are big fans of standard A4 paper.  Then, Staples started selling desktop 3D printers, beginning with the 3D Systems’ Cube in the United States and Afinia’s H-Series in Canada.  The company has just announced that it will be taking another step into full 3D expansion by offering 3D printing services in its US stores, with pilot programs launched in two stores in Los Angeles and New York.

The 3D printing service takes the office supplier’s already existent 2D printing services, which have been around for about two years, to the third dimension.  Not only can you wander into a Staples store and have your brochures, large format posters, and save-the-dates printed on glossy paper or cardstock, but you can have the CAD files for your prototype, anniversary present, or replacement part 3D printed.  As the company’s US partner is 3D Systems, the stores will use 3D Systems technology to produce these prints, some of which can be handled in-store.  For larger, more complex projects, the job will be outsourced to 3D Systems.

Staples Launches Pilot 3D Printing Experience Center

What the office supplier hopes to do to distinguish themselves from online service providers like Shapeways is to walk customers through the design and print process, step-by-step.  That way, they can serve clients with already created CAD files, like engineers and designers, as well as those who lack experience in 3D design. Damien Leigh, senior vice president of business services at Staples, says, “The way we envision this working is from soup to nuts.” At the same time that Staples will provide these services, they also envision their new in-store service centers as “mini Maker Faires” where customers would get to see 3D printing first-hand.

The New York store has seven 3D printers that use six different materials, with prints ranging wildly in price depending on the size of a job. I eventually tracked down the Los Angeles location that is now offering the services, as well as live 3D printing demonstrations and all sorts of fun stuff.  In Studio City, at 12605 Ventura Blvd, the Staples now has, on display and running, a Cube 2 3D printer.  Also located on site, an available for use are the Cube X and the ProJet 460 Plus 3D printer, which is the machine used to make all of those colorful gypsum, sandstone-looking prints you see.

3D-Systems-3DMe-PhotoboothIn fact, this Staples location will be obtaining a 3DMe photobooth, with which to scan your head and shoulders and stick onto an action figure. Until then, they also have a Sense 3D scanner for purchase, as does Staples online and 200 or so other Staples in the country.  In Studio City, you the Sense and iSense 3D scanner, for iPad, are available for customers to toy around with. I was also told that, in the near future, Staples will be the first US retailer to carry the ProJet 1200, the micro-SLA 3D printer for creating castable models used in jewelry making and dentistry. Still no definitive word on the eventual sale of the CubeJet 3D printer, though.

Again, I was assured that, if this Staples location didn’t have the type of printing I was looking for, such as sugar, chocolate, ceramic, metal, etc., the store could use 3D Systems cloud service to have it printed by 3D Systems themselves.  And the stores both have 3DS representatives temporarily on site, training the staff on the technology and protocols of 3D printing. All very exciting stuff! If Good Ol’ Neil were around today, he’d say, “That’s one small step for an office supplies chain and one giant leap for the 3D printing industry.”

What was less exciting was the journey I had to go through to track down this LA store.  Every customer service rep, and especially the 3D Systems person I spoke with, was extremely nice.  What I do worry about, however, is the typical service I’m used to having at chain stores.  Tracking down the store took about two hours and I fear that it may reflect the experience offered by Staples, UPS, and other chain stores that have announced new 3D printing services.  I first Googled “staples los angeles 3d printing” and, as you’d expect, got results of the announcement, rather than tangible data. So, I searched via Google Maps, instead.

the search for staples 3d printing services

I called them up and, after being told to call back and speak with a Copy and Print specialist, was subsequently directed to another location with more information.

the search for staples 3d printing services 2

It went on like this for over an hour.

the search for staples 3d printing services 3

I was told to go to the Staples website where I might find the store I was looking for.

the search for staples 3d printing services 4

When I couldn’t find it there, I chatted with a live customer service operator online.

the search for staples 3d printing services live chat

Before trying to sell me some paper (full transcript below), he directed me to the corporate customer service line.  I called the customer service line and the operator was extremely friendly in looking for the LA location with 3D printing services, but she, too, ultimately sent me elsewhere, connecting me with the corporate headquarters. Finally, after being on hold for about twenty minutes, I got the info for the Studio City store and learned all of the details listed above.  After speaking with the 3DS rep, my excitement in the prospects of widespread 3D printing adoption was renewed, but only after a long, long trip.

Irreverently speaking, perhaps more impressive than the 3D print services that may be offered by the company is the breadth of hold music I’ve heard today.  I definitely prefer the electropop at the Santa Monica/Vermont store to the generic “classical” music at some of the others.  I was going to make an audio experience of my journey, but I realized half way through that  no one wants to listen to a series of Staples employees telling me to call other locations, interspersed with voice recordings and hold music.  So, at the very least, here is the transcript of my chat with Arbind C.

The following information is a log of your session. Please save the log for your records. Your session ID for this chat is 6781664.
Time Details
04/11/2014 12:10:09PM System: “Welcome to Staples Live Chat. We will be with you shortly.”
04/11/2014 12:10:10PM System: “For security purposes, please do not send credit card information through chat. Should credit information be required for a transaction, a Staples associate will contact you by phone for the required information.”
04/11/2014 12:10:17PM Session Started with Agent (Arbind C.)
04/11/2014 12:10:34PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Hello Michael, my name is Arbind. Thank you for contacting Staples Live Support. You will receive a transcript of this chat via email at the conclusion of this session. How can I help you today?”
04/11/2014 12:10:35PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “Hi, how’s it going?”
04/11/2014 12:11:01PM Agent (Arbind C.): “I am fine.”
04/11/2014 12:11:09PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Thank you for asking .”
04/11/2014 12:11:28PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “No problem.”
04/11/2014 12:11:36PM Agent (Arbind C.): “How can I help you today?”
04/11/2014 12:11:45PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “I read an article today that said that Staples had launched 3D printing services in one of its Los Angeles stores.”
04/11/2014 12:11:51PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “And I was trying to find out which one”
04/11/2014 12:11:57PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “so that I could call them and ask them about it.”
04/11/2014 12:12:28PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “Do you know which one it is?”
04/11/2014 12:12:30PM Agent (Arbind C.): “I request you to contact the store directly as they will be able to assist you with this .”
04/11/2014 12:12:47PM Agent (Arbind C.): “I can provide you the contact number of the store.”
04/11/2014 12:14:24PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “that’d be great!”
04/11/2014 12:14:42PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Sure.”
04/11/2014 12:15:14PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Could you help me with the zip?”
04/11/2014 12:15:55PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “Well, I’m not sure which Staples in Los Angeles has the 3D printing services, so I’m not sure which zip to give you.”
04/11/2014 12:15:58PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “Sorry!”
04/11/2014 12:16:06PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “I was hoping to find out which store it was that had the services”
04/11/2014 12:16:27PM Agent (Arbind C.): “OKAY LET ME CHECK .”
04/11/2014 12:16:48PM Agent (Arbind C.): “I am sorry for the caps.”
04/11/2014 12:17:05PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Your request would be best handled by speaking with an expert directly. I recommend contacting our Customer Service Department at 1-800-333-3330.They provide a service that will help you .”
04/11/2014 12:18:21PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “Thanks!”
04/11/2014 12:18:35PM Agent (Arbind C.): “You are welcome.”
04/11/2014 12:18:40PM Agent (Arbind C.): “I also recommend you to take a look on this paper deal as you may need this . http://www.staples.com/HammerMill-Copy-Plus-Copy-Paper-8-1-2-inch-x-11-inch/product-nr_122374?cmArea=SC5:CG90:DP9472:CL211078
04/11/2014 12:18:47PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Is there anything else I may assist you with?”
04/11/2014 12:19:21PM Michael Molitch-Hou: “No thanks. Thank you for your help!”
04/11/2014 12:19:40PM Agent (Arbind C.): “Thank you for choosing Staples Live Support. We appreciate your business with us. Have a wonderful day.”
04/11/2014 12:23:34PM Agent sent nudge
04/11/2014 12:24:05PM Session Ended
04/11/2014 12:24:05PM Session Ended – Nudge

Source: Bloomberg